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It's official. Rafer Weigel will become the new weekend sports anchor and reporter at top-rated WLS-Channel 7, effective March 21. He replaces Ryan Chiaverini who was recently named co-host of Channel 7's new live morning show "Windy City Live."

Rafer Weigel, 41, is the son of the late Tim Weigel, who was a TV sports anchor and reporter and newspaper sports writer for many years in Chicago. Tim Weigel spent 17 years as a sports anchor and reporter at Channel 7.

WLS news director Jennifer Graves called Rafer Weigel a "talented broadcaster who has worked hard to earn his stripes." She also said Weigel "loves this city and has never lost his passion for following Chicago sports teams."

Most recently, Weigel was a sports anchor on CNN HLN in 2008.

weigel.rafer.jpgRafer Weigel, son of the late Tim Weigel, a prominent Chicago TV sports anchor and newspaper reporter for many years, may become the new weekend sports anchor at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7. He would replace Ryan Chiaverini, recently tapped along with Valerie Warner to co-host WLS's new live morning talk show "Windy City Live," slated to debut after the 25th and final season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ends in late May.

A Channel 7 spokeswoman declined comment on a report of Weigel's imminent hiring that first surfaced on an industry trade website NewsBlues.com. WLS general manager Emily Barr also declined comment.

Rafer Weigel, 41, has been the sports anchor for the past three years on cable news channel HLN's "Morning Express with Robin Meade." Coincidentally, Weigel also had been a candidate to host WLS's new live morning show, until he bowed out of the competition, indicating he wanted to continue with his job at HLN.

Weigel grew up in Evanston, and attended Evanston Township High School and the University of Illinois, where he earned a degree in theater. He started out as an actor in Chicago theater, but then moved on to Hollywood where he had some success, including a recurring role on the NBC series "Jenny" and several movie parts -- among them a role in the movie "Rated X" about the porn industry.

Rafer Weigel returned to Chicago after his father's death from a brain tumor in 2001, and began a career in journalism writing about sports for the Sun-Times as a freelancer and doing a show called "Celebrity Rock" on WCKG-FM, now known as WCFS-FM.

Weigel returned to the west coast in 2005 to work in TV, first as freelance reporter in San Diego and then full-time general assignment reporter in Sacramento, before joining HLN in 2008.

ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7's new live morning show has its co-hosts. Now it has a name -- "Windy City Live." The show will replace "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in the 9 a.m. time slot on Channel 7 when Winfrey completes her 25th and final season of the show in late May.

"Windy City Live" will be broadcast live from the Channel 7 studios in the loop in front of a studio audience. Ryan Chiaverini, WLS's current weekend sports anchor, and Valerie Warner, a morning show co-host and traffic reporter at Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9, were selected from among scores of candidates to co-host "Windy City Live."

image001.jpgWLS-Channel 7 weekend sports anchor Ryan Chiaverini and WGN-Channel 9 morning show anchor and traffic reporter Valerie Warner have been tapped as hosts of Channel 7's new morning show that has the working title "Morning Rush."

The new program, which will air at 9 a.m. live in front of a studio audience, could launch as early as late spring, soon after the final installment of the "Oprah Winfrey Show" airs in late May.

Chiaverini and Warner were selected from some 80 contenders for the co-host job that were given serious consideration by "Morning Rush" executive producer Marlaine Selip and supervising producer Cindy Patrasso. Some 20 of those 80 finalists were paired together over the course of several weeks of auditions to determine which duo had the best chemistry.

Selip said Chiaverini got the nod, in large part, because of his "warmth and likeability." Selip also called Warner "smart, relatable and just plain fun to watch."

Chiaverini joined the WLS news team in 2006. In addition to serving as weekend sports anchor and weekday reporter, Chiaverini has hosted "The Chicago Huddle," where he liked to do fun segments bantering with Chicago Bears players.

Warner joined Channel 9 in 2005 as weekday morning show anchor. Among other things, she has reported on politics and health topics, including diabetes and breast cancer.

Chicagoans really care about the weather -- especially when a potentially historic blizzard is about to hit the city. Late news overnight ratings were unusually high for all late local newscasts Monday night, with the notable exception of Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32.

Top-rated ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 still bested all other stations with a whopping 11.2 rating (392,000 households), about two rating points higher than usual. But Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9's hour-long 9 p.m. newscast, which features popular meteorologist Tom Skilling in its weather reporting arsenal, was a close second with a 10.2 rating (357,000), nearly double what the station's average late news rating has been in recent weeks. The station has long considered Skilling a major draw, but no more so than now with the blizzard approaching. On Tuesday, the station's spokeswoman Diana Dionisio had even taken to reminding reporters that "we ARE weather to Chicago, after all."

Both NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 and CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 also had considerably better-than-usual ratings success Monday, scoring 8.7 (304,500) and 8.0 (280,000) ratings respectively for their late newscasts. Only WFLD seemed unable to pull in any new viewers with the blizzard on the way. The station could only manage a 2.5 rating (87,500) for the night, about what it has been drawing in recent months.

Top-rated ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 will air a Chicago mayoral candidate debate on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. It is unclear at this point how many of the candidates will participate in the event. The hour-long, commercial-free debate, hosted by Channel 7 anchor and reporter Ron Magers, will be broadcast live from the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre in the loop. It also will be streamed live on abc7chicago.com and broadcast at a time-to-be-announced on Univision Chicago.

To present the debate, Channel 7 is partnering with several organizations, including the Chicago Foundation for Women, Chicago Loop Alliance, Chicago Urban League, League of Chicago Theatres, League of Women Voters, Mikva Challenge, National Council of La Raza and Univision Chicago.

"We are proud of ABC 7's long-standing tradition of broadcasting candidate debates, and with the intense focus on Chicago's next mayor, we knew a timely mayoral debate was essential," said Emily Barr, president and general manager of WLS-Channel 7.

Longtime WLS-Channel 7 news producer Vicki Giammona will retire from the station on December 17, after a 32-year run. She started at the station in 1978 as a part-time writer in the public relations department and went on to become a researcher for "7 On Your Side," before turning to producing. Among the highlights of her long and varied career with WLS are a trip to Israel with Cardinal Bernardin, the inaugurations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Giammona also traveled to at least four national political conventions.

Said WLS news director Jennifer Graves of Giammona's decision to retire: "She's covered popes, a prince and princess, world leaders and the Wildcats. She's even interviewed Fabio. I think it's safe to say that it'll be impossible to fill Vicki's shoes."

Laura Cordell has been promoted from producer of weekend morning newscasts to producer of the weekday early morning newscast at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7. Astrid Greve also is joining Channel 7 as a writer/producer on the station's weekend morning newscasts. Cordell came to WLS-Channel 7 from Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32, where she produced the station's 5 am newscast. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri Journalism School and has a master's degree from Marquette University. Greve, who starts at WLS on Nov. 8, is currently an executive producer at WTVG-TV in Toledo, where she supervises line producers and does fill-in work as a producer.

ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 said late Friday it has inked deals with two producers who will play key roles in the development of a new live morning show tentatively titled "Morning Rush."

The hour-long show is expected to debut after "The Oprah Winfrey Show" ends its long run in the 9 a.m. time slot on Channel 7 in the fall of 2011. Marlaine Selip will serve as the new show's executive producer and Cindy Patrasso will be the show's supervising producer.

Selip has a varied career in the TV business, including stints as supervising producer of "The Montel Williams Show" and a role as executive producer of MSNBC's "Donahue." Among other things, she also was senior news producer for NBC Enterprises' "The John Walsh Show."

On her Facebook page, Patrasso describes herself as a 30-year veteran of the television industry, as well as the president and sole owner of CP and Co., a national television and events production company. She also was a former president of the Orbis Broadcast Group and a vice president and executive producer for Chicago-based Intersport Television.

Channel 7 general manager Emily Barr said both new executives come to the station "with deep Chicago roots and extensive experience in live, daytime television." Barr also praised their "strong leadership skills and good old-fashioned Midwestern values." One thing neither executive has, it appears, is a direct connection to "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which suggests Barr is not looking to replicate aspects of that syndicated show as she seeks to come up with a fresh and different Chicago-centric morning show.

Both Selip and Patrasso join the station on Nov. 1. No further decisions on talent, set or the content of the new WLS show will be made until after that date, Barr said.

Are Illinois gubernatorial candidates Pat Quinn and Bill Brady in the same star league with United States senate candidates Alexi Giannoulias and Mark Kirk? Not so much, at least judging by the overnight Nielsen ratings in the Chicago market. The debate between the two gubernatorial candidates Wednesday night, which aired on WLS-Channel 7at 10:35 p.m., pulled a 4.1 rating (143,500 households). That was nearly a full rating point lower than the 5.0 rating (175,000) for Tuesday night's debate between the senate candidates.
But the gubernatorial debate still beat out its two main late night competitors. The Wednesday night rating for WMAQ's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" was a 3.2 (112,000). "The David Letterman Show" trailed Wednesday with a 1.8 rating (63,000).

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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